Friday
January 19, 2007
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Volume 35
Issue 03
 
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Domestic partnership legislation advances in the Legislature
Domestic partnership legislation advances in the Legislature
Domestic partnership legislation advances in the Legislature

"While we continue to work toward marriage equality, I am very optimistic that we can adopt some basic protections for domestic partners this year," said State Rep. Dave Upthegrove. by Robert Raketty - SGN Staff Writer

Washington State's five openly Gay legislator's introduced legislation this week that seeks to legalize marriage for same-sex couples and bestow certain rights and responsibilities once reserved only for married couples. The bills have been scheduled for hearings in the House and Senate and have garnered a growing list of sponsors.

A proposed domestic partnership bill, House Bill 1351 and its Senate companion SB 5336, includes language that would allow a person to visit a partner in the hospital, make medical decisions for an incapacitated partner, make funeral arrangements, and attain inheritance rights in the absence of a will. Senior citizens over the age of 62 and in an unmarried heterosexual relationship would also qualify for a domestic partnership. The second measure, House Bill 1350 and its Senate companion SB 5335, would define marriage as "a civil contract between two persons" and amend marriage laws to include gender-neutral terms.

Openly Gay State Rep. Joe McDermott, D-Seattle, introduced the domestic partnership bill and Pedersen introduced the marriage equality measure in the House. The two other openly Gay members of the House, Rep. Jim Moeller, D-Vancouver, and Dave Upthegrove, D-Des Moines, are sponsoring the House versions of both bills

Senate Majority Leader Lisa Brown, who is sponsoring the domestic partnership measure, and House Speaker Frank Chopp have both support the domestic partnership measure. In all, Fifty-six legislators in the House and 21 in the Senate are sponsoring the domestic partnership bill. The marriage equality bill has not fared as well, receiving only 26 co-sponsors in the House and 12 in the Senate. "More than half of the House is sponsors of the [domestic partnership

bill. Clearly, there is significant support for quickly protecting Gay and Lesbian families in Washington State," said Josh Friedes, Advocacy Director for Equal Rights Washington. "The other thing I want to point out is that we have a significant number of sponsors on the marriage bill and this is also really exciting news. There are 26 sponsors of the marriage bill in the House. That is more than one quarter of the House members who are sponsoring the marriage bill. Historically, the Senate has been a harder place for us than the House, but 12 is a wonderful place to be starting. I think that shows there is growing support for marriage equality in the Legislature and that is a very positive trend."

Gov. Christine Gregoire met with lawmakers, LGBT activists and LGBT and allied organizations on Wednesday, January 17, to discuss the proposed legislation. ERW's Interim Executive Director Barbara Green, Lifelong AIDS Alliance Executive Director Tina Podlodowski and representatives of the Northwest Women's Law Center were among those in attendance. Several of the meetings attendees told the SGN this week that they believe Gregoire would sign the domestic partnership bill but that she shied away from making any commitments regarding the marriage equality measure.

"The Governor continues to be a strong ally in supporting LGBT families in Washington State," said Friedes about the outcome of the meeting.

The domestic partnership legislation has been schedule for hearings in the House and Senate. The Senate Committee on Government Operations and Elections will hold a hearing on Thursday, January 25, at 3:30 p.m. in Senate Hearing Room 2. Likewise, the House Judiciary Committee will hold its hearing on Wednesday, January 31, at 1:30 p.m. in House Hearing Room A.

Upthegrove said he expects the domestic partnership legislation to do well this legislative session. "There is obviously tremendous support in this legislature for improving the protections for Gay and Lesbian families," he told the SGN on Thursday. "While we continue to work toward marriage equality, I am very optimistic that we can adopt some basic protections for domestic partners this year. "In the process, legislators and citizens are waking up to the fact that Gay and Lesbian families and their children are denied hundreds of basic protections in state law. Support for marriage equality will continue to build."

The proposed legislation will be a key focus of a series of events, entitled "Vow to Take a Stand," to take place around the state in early February and a lobby day in Olympia on February 26. Both events are being co-sponsored by ERW. "I think the hearings underscore the importance of people coming to Equality Day to rally in support of LGBT civil rights on February 26 in Olympia," said Friedes. "We can never assume anything and we need to be prepared for opposition from the religious-right, the radical-right and very conservative legislators.

"We are not where we need to be. We still have a lot of education; a lot of lobbying to do around the marriage equality issue."

Sen. Dan Swecker, R-Rochester, announced last week that he will introduce a constitutional amendment to define marriage as between a man and a woman and protect the 1998 Defense of Marriage Act he sponsored.

Swecker's proposed constitutional amendment is likely to enjoy little support in the Democratic Party controlled Legislature. A vote of two-thirds of the Legislature and a vote of the people would be required to amend the Washington State constitution.

In a narrow 5-4 decision last July, the Washington state Supreme Court had ruled to uphold the state's Defense of Marriage Act, which bars same-sex couples from access to marriage. The state's highest court overruled two lower courts, which had concluded that the law was unconstitutional. In their judicial opinions, several justices recognized the role of the Legislature in the debate over the merits of marriage equality.

"...[T]he Legislature may want to re-examine the impact of marriage laws on all citizens of this state," Justice Barbara Madsen wrote. Chief Justice Gerry Alexander said that there is nothing in the lead opinion "which should be read as casting doubt on the right of the Legislature or the people to broaden the marriage act or provide other forms of civil union if that is their will." However, Justice James Johnson said that the Legislature should insist "upon compelling evidence before making sweeping alteration in marriage."

"We are doing well following the loss in the [marriage] case [before the Supreme Court]. We have rebounded quickly and effectively utilized that loss to educate the public and legislators about the needs of Lesbian and Gay families," said Friedes. "We are seeing phenomenal cooperation between our legislative allies and Gay and non-Gay organizations that support LGBT civil rights and protecting our families. I think these are good times right now for the Gay community in Washington State. "

The city of Seattle has a voluntary domestic partner registry, which does not extend any legal rights or responsibilities or any contractual relationships or obligations between the registrants. Should the proposed domestic partnership legislation pass, such registries would not be automatically added to the state registry. However, domestic partnerships, civil unions, or reciprocal beneficiary relationships registered in other states would be recognized in Washington State.

Other provisions of the domestic partnership bill require that couples register with the Secretary of State, share a common residence, be at least 18 years of age and not be married or in a domestic partnership with anyone else. Applicants who are not capable of consenting to a relationship or who are close blood relatives would be prohibited.

Last month, New Jersey joined Connecticut and Vermont in granting civil unions to same-sex couples. Currently, Massachusetts is the only state to allow such couples to marry. California has domestic partnerships that bestow the same rights as marriage.

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